MidAmerica Bank hooks up second EMC Centera

MidAmerica Bank deploys a second EMC Centera archiving appliance for disaster recovery.

MidAmerica Bank recently bought a second EMC Corp. Centera content-addressed storage (CAS) appliance to replicate banking records between two sites -- both located in the Western suburbs of Chicago -- to guard against downtime.

With such a large volume of data to contend with, Paul Stonchus, vice president, data center manager at MidAmerica Bank, worried about the potential impact of disasters on everyday business operations.

"I don't want to have to explain to the CEO that he just lost 8 terabytes (TB) of data," Stonchus said. There's just not enough time to recover terabytes of banking records from tape or optical disc, so Stonchus plans to replicate the current Centera platform to a second Centera that will soon be deployed in a remote physical location. Since Centera uses bisynchronous replication, both locations can work with primary data and replicate to each other on demand. Although the sites are separated by approximately 15 miles, both CAS sites can handle data requests, and either site can restore the other in the event of a problem.

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Initially, synchronizing terabytes of data may take significant time across a WAN, but Stonchus is confident that 5 GB of daily replication can be accomplished adequately through a relatively slow WAN link. "We don't expect it to need more than 10 Mbps," he said. In actual practice, it is likely that MidAmerica Bank will implement additional bandwidth to prevent bottlenecks during unexpectedly high replication jobs. "We don't want any glitches or hiccups where it suddenly has to replicate 2 GB -- we don't want it eating up our bandwidth." In the event of WAN connectivity problems, the bank would delay replication until service is restored.

Doing it the old way, recalling check images from optical media, proved to be an awkward and time-consuming process. Requests had to be made, the media had to be pulled, and the correct image had to be located and copied. By digitizing images and moving the image data to long-term disk-based archival storage, CAS helps the bank to meet regulatory retention needs and provides a far better level of service to network users.

MidAmerica Bank was already an EMC shop with 41 TB of raw Clariion SAN storage and 4 TB of raw Symmetrix DMX capacity, so adding Centera was an obvious CAS option. The bank was able to replace the need for DVDs with Centera. "And now for all intents and purposes, the end user is totally unaware that the image they're receiving is a year old, but the response time is less than one half of a second," Stonchus said. Without CAS, he says, the options would have been to implement more expensive SAN space or continue with cumbersome optical or tape-based storage.

The growth of CAS at MidAmerica Bank has been astonishing. Its Centera started service in March 2004 and has been expanded aggressively since the initial implementation. Today, the Centera CAS platform provides about 20 TB of raw storage in MidAmerica's infrastructure. According to Stonchus, CAS use has recently been expanded beyond imaging to archive Word documents and other business data generated by MidAmerica's 1,800 users. This should drive up CAS utilization even further, and Stonchus expects capacity to double again in the coming year.

Stonchus says that the addition of a second Centera for data replication is an important step in MidAmerica's long-term business continuance strategy -- a strategy that existed before the second Centera was purchased. "Without the second Centera, a separate off-site copy of the data (usually a vaulted DVD) needed to be created in the event of a major disaster at our primary site," Stonchus said. "These copies were not used in day-to-day operations, but diligence required their creation."

So why EMC? Stonchus says that EMC had a distinct advantage in product selection because of the vendor's existing relationship with MidAmerica Bank, and the CAS acquisition arose as another topic of discussion during a major SAN purchase. "They [EMC] said 'while you're buying that, why not take a look at this' [Centera]," he said. "I was not able to find any vendors that offered a similar solution." According to Stonchus, no other CAS systems were evaluated prior to the Centera adoption.

Although Stonchus found upper management receptive to CAS technology, its adoption was slow and deliberate over the last few years. "We dipped into it slowly," he said. "We took the most likely candidate application, [a document imaging application] we moved it over to Centera, and we let the technology prove itself." MidAmerica Bank has been satisfied with its Centera investment, though Stonchus would ideally like to see additional reporting to identify orphaned data (if there is any).

In spite of the up-front acquisition costs, Stonchus was impressed with Centera's ease of administration and low total cost of ownership. The actual administration requires about 30 minutes per week, compared to as much as three hours per week archiving and administering data without Centera. This low management overhead also eases the need for additional staff to manage the infrastructure. Although he could not share specific financial details, he said Centera offered an important cost benefit. "I just know that my storage [cost] requirements on a SAN would probably be twice as high as they currently are if we didn't have Centera in place," he said.

Other companies selling storage for archival purposes include: Archivas Inc., Bycast Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Nexan Technologies Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., (StorageTek)., Hitachi Data Systems Inc. and Permabit Inc.

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